Homestead Act Activities & Games

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

Learning about history can be greatly enhanced through the use of engaging activities. This lesson provides teachers with Homestead Act-related activities that can be used to reinforce related material that has been covered in class.

An Act for All

The 1862 Homestead Act gave Americans the opportunity to claim dozens of acres of federal land for private use. The activities in this lesson are designed to help your students gain a better understanding of the practical side of the Homestead Act and how the individuals who took advantage of this program may have been affected by it.

A Perfect Homestead

Many people who applied for land through the Homestead Act didn't receive an ideal piece of property. In fact, many homesteaders received land that was difficult to farm or that was located in inhospitable areas or climates. In this activity, pairs of students will try to recreate a realistic plot of homestead land.

This activity requires:

  • White poster board
  • Art supplies
  1. Put students into pairs and provide each pair with a large white sheet of poster board. Each pair should also have drawing supplies.
  2. Ask each team to think about a typical homestead plot (for instance, farmland, trees for lumber, water for crops, rocky/hilly areas, etc.).
  3. Give the pairs time to draw a top down view of their land design on the poster board (students can be artistic, but great drawing skills aren't required).
  4. When the drawings are complete, display all of the posters around the room.

To conclude the activity, have a class discussion about the realities of homesteading and brainstorm ways that homesteaders could problem solve issues if they received less than ideal plots.

State Your Case

Anyone, including single women and freed slaves, could apply for 160 acres through the Homestead Act. Because of the sheer number of applicants, there was often significant competition and corruption involved in obtaining land. This activity imagines that there are more applicants than land available. Thus, for the purposes of this activity, only half of your students can be awarded land.

  1. Tell students to imagine they're living in the 1860s and are applying for land through the Homestead Act.
  2. Ask each student to write a 30 to 60-second plea as to why he or she should be awarded land. As part of the plea, students can invent a background story or fake family members. For example, a student could begin by saying, ''My husband and I came from Ireland with our eight children, two of whom died of cholera during the journey. We need this land becauseā€¦ .''
  3. Have each student plead his or her case to the class.
  4. After each student has spoken, the class should vote by simple majority whether or not to award land to that person based on his or her story and ability to make productive use of the awarded land.

At the end of the activity, have a class discussion about why certain individuals were awarded land and others were not. You can also tie this class discussion into real-life homestead-related stories you've covered in class.

Make an Improvement

One of the requirements of the Homestead Act was that homesteaders had to live on the land for five years and make improvements during that time. This group activity will require your students to work together to improve homestead land. To begin, write each of the following descriptions on an index card:

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